The truth that pornography damages marriages is widely accepted in both professional and ministerial circles. What doesn’t often get addressed, however, is that use of pornography prior to marriage can also have serious repercussions.
In my experience, most clients who have struggled with pornography prior to marriage offer reasonable and factual disclosures to their fiancés. I believe this is especially true for Christians who realize they are making a lifelong commitment.
But for believers and non-believers alike, the real challenge is the same: to offer disclosure that covers not only the true depth of injuries sustained from pornography, but those injuries which drove them to use it as an escape in the first place. How can we disclose what we don’t fully comprehend ourselves?
Often the insidious progression of pornography addiction begins with a sexual trauma, such as exposure to pornography, at a young age. The addiction may develop slowly through episodes that have considerable times of sobriety in between. But even for those with no childhood trauma, sexual sin of any type and duration is a comprehensive wound that affects the body, mind, and spirit. Then, even when a person has stopped acting out behaviorally with pornography, the wounds may still remain.
Many individuals marry hoping it will cure their compulsion for pornography, fantasy, and masturbation. Some Christians even quote Paul, who said it is better to marry than to struggle with sexual passion.1 The problem with this logic is that for the porn addict, sexual passion is not the problem. Sexual passion is merely the drug being used to medicate the real problems – those wounds from the past that don’t go away. Well-meaning believers who use marriage as an escape from sexual sin are really misleading themselves and those they love.
Susan asked Eric twice during their engagement if he had been involved with pornography. The first time, he simply said, “No, never.” A few weeks passed and she felt a compelling need to ask again. This time Eric stated that he had used pornography a couple of times, but reiterated it had never become a problem.
Within a month of marrying, Susan learned that Eric was exposed to pornography as a preteen. His experimentation with pornography increased into young adulthood, and included Internet pornography. Susan felt betrayed. Eric felt ashamed. And their relationship was deeply wounded.
Perhaps the most obvious injury from pornography occurs in the mind. Once porn is downloaded into our mental hard drive through the portals of the senses, it works like a computer virus, corrupting our thoughts about sexuality. The contaminated files include our thoughts about being male or female, what we believe about our sexuality, how we plan to behave sexually, and whether we have the capacity to remain faithful in marriage.
In addition to these mental injuries, past pornography use offers significant challenges to our emotions, too. Healthy attachments and bonding become elusive. Many of us now believe that pornography addiction is a type of intimacy disorder that makes connecting with others more difficult.
If your marriage is challenged on a physical level, lacking either sexual intimacy or integrity, it may be necessary to ask if your partner has ever used pornography. Sexual disorders can have a variety of causes other than prior pornography use, so neither therapists nor spouses should jump to conclusions. In any case, the sooner the couple seeks help the better the prognosis will be.
The spiritual damage done by pornography use is least visible, but the most devastating to future relationships. In the act of sex, God paints for us a picture of our union with Christ at His return. When we mock the first institution ordained by God (marriage between a man and woman) we subvert the most sacred behavior this side of heaven.
In view of these many considerations, I hope it is evident that any pornography use – past, present, or future – has the potential to compromise marriage sooner or later.
If you recognize that past pornography use is affecting your relationships or if you wish to heal these effects before getting married, contact Focus on the Family’s Counseling Department for a free confidential consultation to help you determine if you could benefit from counseling and how to identify a trained counselor in your area.